… here ’tis:
A A Gill on Autobiography by Morrissey
THE SUNDAY TIMES
AS NOËL Coward might have said, nothing incites intemperate cultural hyperbole like cheap music. Who can forget that the Beatles were once authoritatively lauded as the equal of Mozart, or that Bob Dylan was dubbed a contemporary Keats? The Beatles continued to ignore Covent Garden, and Mozart is rarely heard at Glastonbury; Dylan has been silently culled from the latest edition of the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry in English.
The publication of Autobiography was the second item on Channel 4’s news on the day it was released. Krishnan Guru-Murthy excitably told the nation that Morrissey really could write — presumably he was reading from an Autocue — and a pop journalist thrilled that he was one of the nation’s greatest cultural icons. He isn’t even one of Manchester’s greatest cultural icons.
This belief in high-low cultural relativity leads to a certain sort of chippy pop star feeling undervalued and then hoitily producing a rock opera or duet with concert harpsichord. Morrissey, though, didn’t have to attain the chip of being needily undervalued; he was born with it. He tells us he ditched “Steve”, his given name, to be known by his portentous unimoniker because — deep reverential breath here — great classical composers only have one name. Mussorgsky, Mozart, Morrissey.
His most pooterishly embarrassing piece of intellectual social climbing is having this autobiography published by Penguin Classics. Not Modern Classics, you understand, where the authors can still do book signings, but the classic Classics, where they’re dead and some of them only have one name. Molière, Machiavelli, Morrissey.
He has made up for being alive by having a photograph of himself pretending to be dead on the cover. The book’s publication was late and trade gossip has it that Steve insisted on each and every bookshop taking a minimum order of two dozen, misunderstanding how modern publishing works. But this is not unsurprising when you read the book. He is constantly moaning about record producers not pressing enough discs to get him to No 1. What is surprising is that any publisher would want to publish the book, not because it is any worse than a lot of other pop memoirs, but because Morrissey is plainly the most ornery, cantankerous, entitled, whingeing, self-martyred human being who ever drew breath. And those are just his good qualities.
The book falls into two distinct passages. The first quarter is devoted to growing up in Manchester (where he was born in 1959) and his schooling. This is laughably overwrought and overwritten, a litany of retrospective hurt and score-settling that reads like a cross between Madonna and Catherine Cookson. No teacher is too insignificant not to be humiliated from the heights of success, no slight is too small not to be rehashed with a final, killing esprit d’escalier. There are pages of lists of television programmes he watched (with plot analysis and character criticism). He could go on Mastermind with the specialist subject of Coronation Street or the works of Peter Wyngarde. There is the food he ate, the groups that appeared on Top of the Pops (with critical comments) and the poetry he liked (with quotes).
All of this takes quite a lot of time due to the amount of curlicues, falderals and bibelots he insists on dragging along as authorial decoration. Instead of adding colour or depth, they simply result in a cacophony of jangling, misheard and misused words. After 100 pages, he’s still at the school gate kicking dead teachers.
But then he sets off on the grown-up musical bit and the writing calms down and becomes more diary-like, bloggish, though with an incontinent use of italics that are a sort of stage direction or aside to the audience. He changes tenses in ways that are supposed to be elegant but just sound camp. There is one passage that stands out — this is the first time he sings. “Against the command of everyone I had ever known, I sing. My mouth meets the microphone and the tremolo quaver eats the room with acceptable pitch and I am removed from the lifelong definition of others and their opinions matter no more. I am singing the truth by myself which will also be the truth of others and give me a whole life. Let the voice speak up for once and for all.” That has the sense of being both revelatory and touching, but it stands out like the reflection of the moon in a sea of Stygian self-justification and stilted self-conscious prose.
The hurt recrimination is sometimes risible but mostly dull, like listening to neighbours bicker through a partition wall, and occasionally startlingly unpleasant, such as the reference to the Moors murderers and the unfound grave of their victim Keith Bennett. “Of course, had Keith been a child of privilege or moneyed background, the search would never have been called off. But he was a poor, gawky boy from Manchester’s forgotten side streets and minus the blond fantasy fetish of a cutesy Madeleine McCann.”
It’s what’s left out of this book rather than what’s put in that is strangest. There is an absence of music, not just in its tone, but the content. There are emetic pools of limpid prose about the music business, the ingratitude of fellow musicians and band members and the lack of talent in other performers, but there is nothing about the making of music itself, the composing of lyrics, the process of singing or the emotion of creation. He seems to assume we will already know his back catalogue and can hum along to his recorded life. This is 450 pages of what makes Morrissey, but nothing of what Morrissey makes.
There is the peevishness at managers, record labels and bouncers, a list of opaque court cases, all of which he manages to lose unfairly, due to the inherited stupidity of judges. Even his relation with the audience is equivocal. Morrissey likes them when they’re worshipping from a distance, but he is not so keen when they’re up close. As an adolescent he approaches Marc Bolan for an autograph. Bolan refuses and Morrissey, still awkwardly humiliated after all these years, has the last word. But then later in the book and life, he does exactly the same thing to his own fans without apparent irony.
There is little about his private life. A boyfriend slips in and out with barely a namecheck. This is him on his early sexual awakening: “Unfathomably I had several cupcake grapples in this year of 1973… Plunge or no plunge, girls remain mysteriously attracted to me.” There is precious little plunging after that.
There are many pop autobiographies that shouldn’t be written. Some to protect the unwary reader, and some to protect the author. In Morrissey’s case, he has managed both. This is a book that cries out like one of his maudlin ditties to be edited. But were an editor to start, there would be no stopping. It is a heavy tome, utterly devoid of insight, warmth, wisdom or likeability. It is a potential firelighter of vanity, self-pity and logorrhoeic dullness. Putting it in Penguin Classics doesn’t diminish Aristotle or Homer or Tolstoy; it just roundly mocks Morrissey, and this is a humiliation constructed by the self-regard of its victim.
Today’s Times carries an obituary of Peter Griffiths, who died on November 20th, aged 85. I was astonished to learn that this vile creature lived until so recently, and though he lost his Smethwick seat in 1966, returned as an MP (for Portsmouth North) from 1979 until 1997. Presumably, he remained a Tory to the end. I reproduce the obituary for the benefit, in particular, of readers unfamiliar with the 1964 Smethwick election and the events that followed:
Above: Peter Griffiths at the time of the Smethwick election
In a parliamentary row that galvanised Westminster in in the opening days of the return of Labour to office in 1964 after 13 years in opposition, the newly elected Conservative MP for Smethwick, Peter Griffiths was branded a “parliamentary leper” by the incoming Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. It happened in an astonishing series of exchanges that prefigured the violent language of the race debate conducted by Enoch Powell later in the decade.
Wilson was furious that his intended Foreign Secretary, the scholarly and liberal-minded Patrick Gordon Walker, had been defeated in his Smethwick constituency after a campaign in which Griffiths had shrewdly exploited local tensions over immigration and the housing shortage in the West Midlands.
Griffiths always denied ever using the electioneering slogan “If you want a n***** for a neighbour, Vote Labour”. It was pointed out that he had done nothing to repudiate, much less ban, placards carried by his supporters bearing the offensive electioneering slogan.
In Parliament, in some of the most extraordinary scenes ever witnessed during a Queen’s Speech debate, the Prime Minister upbraided the leader of the Opposition, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, for refusing to disown Griffiths. Castigating the new MP for having run an “utterly squalid” campaign, Wilson told the House: “If Sir Alec does not take what I am sure is the right course, Smethwick Conservatives will have the satisfaction of having sent a member who, until another election returns him to oblivion, will serve his time as a parliamentary leper.”
There was uproar. The Speaker, Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, was urged by the opposition benches to make the Prime Minister retract his remarks. Hylton-Foster declined to do so, although admitting that he deplored Wilson’s comments. Uproar continued for ten minutes and a score of Tory MPs had walked out of the chamber before order was restored.
In the event, Wilson was prescient. At the general election in 1966 Griffiths lost his Smethwick seat to the actor and Labour candidate Andrew Faulds. He did not return to Parliament until 1979, at Portsmouth North. He was never to be such a conspicuous figure in Parliament again.
Griffiths did not count himself among far Right Tories. Yet he supported Smethwick council, of which he had been a member since 1955, when it tried to buy up a row of houses to let exclusively to white families. The purchase was blocked by the Labour Housing Minister Richard Crossman.
After his defeat at Smethwick in 1966, Griffiths returned to teaching. He had been head-master of a primary school, Hall Green Road, West Bromwich, at the time of the election. In 1967 he became a lecturer in economics at Portsmouth College of Technology where he spent the next dozen years. In the meantime he had published A Question of Colour? (1966) in which he claimed “no colour prejudice”. The book blamed the spread of disease on immigrants and praised South Africa as a “model of democracy”.
Griffiths unsuccessfully contested Portsmouth North in the February 1974 election which returned a minority Labour administration to office.
In the general election of 1979 which propelled the Tories back to power under Margaret Thatcher, Griffiths captured the seat with a large majority. For the next 18 years he was an assiduous backbencher, making his opposition clear to his constituents and the government on such issues as defence cuts as they might affect Portsmouth Dockyard. In the general election of 1997 which brought Labour to power under Tony Blair he lost his seat.
Following a scathing report on UK housing conditions (and, in particular, the bedroom tax) from UN special rapporteur Raquel Rolnick, Tory Chairman Grant Shapps appeared on the BBC Today programme not to respond to her points, but to rant about her being “a woman from Brazil” and to demand “an apology and investigation into how this came about” from the UN.
Ms Rolnick, a member of the Brazilian Workers Party, had said of the Bedroom Tax, “I was very shocked to hear how people really feel abused in their human rights by this decision and why — being so vulnerable – they should pay the cost of the economic downturn, which was brought about by the financial crisis. People in testimonies were crying, saying ‘I have nowhere to go’, I will commit suicide’.”
Ms Rolnick is a former urban planning minister. Grant Shapps is…what, exactly?
Well, a shyster, liar and charlatan for a start.
The photo above shows him posing as “Michael Green”, a “multi-million dollar web marketer” at an internet conference in Las Vegas in 2004.
Between 2004 and 2009 he ran a website called MichaelGreen-Consulting.com (part of a company he owned called How To Corp) giving get-rich-quick advice until blocked by Google for breaching its rules on copyright infringement. In his early years as an opposition MP, he also charged clients £183 an hour for advice on how to make money from the web and tips on beating the recession. When he unsuccessfully ran for Parliament in 1997, in the South London seat of Southwark and Bermondsey, his election leaflets described him as ‘a Londoner by birth’. When he stood successfully in Welwyn Hatfield in 2005, his literature stated that he was ‘born in Hertfordshire’.
In 2008 Shapps transferred his share in How To Corp to his wife and claimed he had “no [further] involvement” with it. Since he entered Parliament in 2010, all How To Corp’s websites have disappeared, removing all traces of “Michael Green” and his business activities.
So who would you trust and believe on the bedroom tax (or anything, come to that): the UN’s special rapporteur on housing, with five years’ experience of carrying out housing investigations in places as varied as the US, Croatia, Argentina, Israel, Rwanda, Palestine, Kazakhstan, Indonesia and Algeria… or a fly-by-night spiv from Watford who once used a false name to sell get-rich-quick schemes?
“The sex-pest and the anti-Semite” – JD
Now that the serial sex-pest ’Comrade Delta’ (aka Martin Smith) has finally “resigned” (or has he?) from the SWP, it seems an appropriate time to remember one of his more outspoken supporters. Now, I’m aware that it’s not always fair to damn people on the basis of those who, unbidden, speak out in their support. But in this case, you’d have thought that Mr Smith might have taken steps to publicly repudiate such foul support: to the best of my knowledge, he never has.
I reproduce the following distasteful (and, frankly, unhinged) piece from Atzmon, only because of that, and because there still seem to be some idiots about who continue to argue that the moderately talented sax player Gilad Atzmon, once promoted so vigorously by the SWP under Mr Smith’s leadership, is not an anti-Semite:
Once again leading UK AZZs , their Sabbath Goyim (Laurie Penny and Richard Seymour) and Islamophobic Hasbara outlet Harry’s Place have been caught together in bed. The exact same Judeocentric tribal coalition that, a year and a half ago, was formed to wreck my career (and failed) is now pursuing Martin Smith AKA Comrade Delta, former secretary of the UK SWP (Socialist Workers Party) who, they insist, is a ‘sex offender’.
Between 2005-10 I worked closely with Martin and the SWP. At the time I was the SWP’s official Kletzmer. I toured with Martin, performed and spoke in quite a few of those Red gatherings. I met some very nice people in the SWP, but I also came across their many Jewish gate-keepers and tribal operators. But the one thing I never detected in any of those political gathering was a trace of libidinal enthusiasm let alone sexual desire. I assumed at the time that these militant young Marxists had decided to postpone having sex until after the revolution.
However, it didn’t take long to realise that Martin Smith was not being pursued because he is a ‘sex offender’ – he surely isn’t – no, our so-called ‘progressive’ tribals chase Smith because he is a Jazz lover and an enthusiastic fan of my music. They harass him because he gave me a platform in spite of the Jewish demand to ban me. They want to bring Martin Smith down simply because he didn’t obey his tribal masters. So If anything, it is Martin who is the rape victim in this saga – he is punished because he refused to bow down to the tribal junta.
(You can read the rest here if you’ve a strong enough stomach…)
Reblogged from Tendance Coatsey:
Galloway for London Mayor: “Real Labour versus a Transvestite.”
George Galloway has announced on Russia Today (where else?) that he intends to fight Boris Johnson for the job of Mayor of London, despite the present incumbent already insisting he will not stand for a third term.
The Respect MP for Bradford West said he had a team of people looking into the idea.
More on the Huffington Post.
He has also said,
“Labour, I understand, is contemplating selecting a transvestite comedian, Eddie Izzard, which would also be an interesting contest. Real Labour versus a transvestite.”
There is, as yet, no word on the Respect Party website on this important battle.
But the International Business Times cites Galloway’s first ideas,
Galloway said it was too early to discuss any specific policies but insisted that alongside his ‘real Labour’ stance: “I would also have an internationalist relationship – ensuring for example that London has a relationship with China, giving China a base in the West.
“China doesn’t have that because many countries fear them but London doesn’t fear them. I’d want Chinese investment as a basis [for my policies].”
We learn that Galloway has just backtracked on this significant initiative – Here.
But a spokesman (that is, not the man himself) for Mr Galloway yesterday told the Telegraph & Argus it was a “not-too-serious response to a rather facetious question”.
“George is committed to Bradford, to fighting the seat in 2014, helping the Bradford East candidate (not yet selected) defeat David Ward, and in the meantime assisting in getting a serious number of councillors elected in 2014 to be the official opposition and holding the balance of power,” he added.
Bradford West Labour councillor Shakeela Lal added: “He’s only been an MP here just over a year but already George Galloway’s bored of Bradford and looking for his next challenge. He’s more interested in running for Mayor of London than standing up for his constituents.”
“We hardly ever see Mr Galloway in Bradford anyway so this hardly comes as a surprise.”
Ilkley Conservative MP Kris Hopkins said: “To be fair to George, the London Mayoral election is not due to held until 2016, the year after the next General Election.
“A lot could happen between now and then and, knowing George, it probably will.”
To slightly misquote PG Wodehouse:
“Loon is calling to loon like mastodons bellowing across primaeval swamps”…
The ad above appears in today’s Daily Telegraph: a good choice as, together with the Mail and Express, it’s become more or less the unofficial mouthpiece of Ukip. Today’s edition also carries the following:
The real impact of ‘loongate’, says James Kirkup, is to expose the “running sore” within the Tory party over core ideals.
With reports of Tory party activists already beginning to defect to Ukip over the comments, which have been attributed to an unnamed close ally of Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Political Editor James Kirkup said the story exposed “a running sore” within the Conservative ranks.
Emerging at the same time a Tory grassroots backlash over gay marriage proposals and following on from the Parliamentary infighting over an EU referendum, the Telegraph reporter said the continued Conservative unrest was making life easy for Ukip.
“Everyday is Christmas if you’re Nigel Farage,” he said.
“Each week that comes by the Tories find a way of splitting, dividing, essentially underlining that strategic fracture that they have on the issues where Nigel Farage harvests votes.”
BBC Radio 3 starts a week of Wagner in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
It begins with:
Wagner In Zurich: 12.15, Saturday 18 May
Tom Service travels to Zurich, where Richard Wagner the revolutionary lived in exile for nine years, and finds a city which played a crucial role in the development of the composer’s thinking and provided fertile ground for his Ring Cycle, and which is marking the 200th anniversary with a festival including a new musical theatre piece by the director Hans Neuenfels. Tom visits the home of the Wesendonck family, where Wagner was inspired to write Tristan und Isolde and his Wesendonck Lieder, and also the idyllic Tribschen district of Lucerne, where Wagner later lived and composed his Siegfried Idyll as a birthday gift to his second wife, Cosima. It was from Germany’s 1848 revolutions that Wagner had fled to Switzerland, and from Leipzig, Wagner’s birthplace and a city which is central to this year’s anniversary celebrations, the BBC’s Berlin correspondent Stephen Evans reports on the composer’s controversial place in German culture today.
Saturday Classics: 3.00pm, Saturday 18 May
The great English operatic bass Robert Lloyd joins Radio 3′s celebration of the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth with selections from his favourite Wagner operas.
Mastersingers of Nuremberg
Duration: 58 minutes: 1.00pm, Sunday 19 May
Immortalised by Wagner in his famous opera, Lucie Skeaping looks back on the life and music of the real Hans Sachs and his fellow Mastersingers in 17th Century Germany.
Wagner and His World
At 12.00 pm throughout the week Donald Macleod explores the connections and relationships that helped establish Wagner as the most revolutionary musical thinker of the 19th century. Includes:
One Winter’s Afternoon
8.00 pm, Sunday 19 May
The story of the great operatic rivalry between Guiseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner in the year marking the bicentenary of their births. In real life, the two great composers never met.
There’s no denying the fact that Richard Wagner wrote some sublime music. But never forget this, either:
My pal Michael Steinman, over at his Jazz Lives blog, has discovered some film of Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich together on the Merv Griffin show in 1979:
This is significant because Benny and Buddy had only ever worked together once before (an obscure recording date in 1947 that Rich mentions during the interview), and because both, as bandleaders, were notorious martinets: the combination could have been disastrous.
In fact, the meeting seems to have been very amiable, with Buddy paying Benny the compliment of comparing him favourably with Artie Shaw (Benny’s great clarinet-bandleader rival in the thirties), while Benny sort-of apologises for not having hired Buddy in 1939 to replace Gene Krupa (he hired the brilliant but unreliable Dave Tough instead).
Both these men could be complete assholes. The recording of Buddy screaming abuse at his band has become a legend in profanity, and would put Sir Alex Ferguson and his ‘hair-drying’ to shame. As for Goodman, he has twelve pages devoted to stories of his misanthropic anti-social antics in Bill Crow’s Jazz Anecdotes: the only problem is choosing the best one. I finally decided upon this, from pianist Dave Frishberg, who in the early sixties worked in a quartet with Goodman’s star drummer from the thirties, Gene Krupa, at the ‘Metropole’, New York:
“Must have been 1962. Benny walked in and the place went crazy. We were on the bandstand, just having finished an hour-and-fifteen-minute set. I looked at Gene and his face was white. He said, ‘It’s the King of Swing, and he’s got his horn. I don’t believe this. Here he comes.’
“Benny walked up on the stand and began to try out reeds. he stared off into space and tootled and fluttered up and down the scale. This went on for long minutes. Meanwhile Jack Waldorf [owner of the Metropole] had herded dozens — hundreds! — of passersby into the club, and he had them chanting, ‘Benny! Benny!’ Some were hollering out years — like ’1939!’ The camera girl, standing down by the bar, snapped a picture and hurried downstairs to make prints, promising autographs of Goodman and Krupa.
“Benny was finally ready. He said, “Brushes, Gene.” Gene obediently picked up the brushes and flashed a big smile, but I could see he was in a cold fury. Then Benny turned to me and said, ‘Sweet Lorraine, in G. Give me a little introduction.” I complied, and Benny entered in F. He waved me out and continued without piano accompaniment.
“He stayed on the stand for about an hour. The camera girl was going into a second printing. Then, abruptly, he packed up his horn and descended, demanding safe escort through the crowd, and he was gone into the night. he hadn’t signed one picture.
Krupa was drenched with two shows’ worth of perspiration, but he sat patiently on the steps of the bandstand and signed dozens of photos. He was writing personal notes on each one, asking each customer, ‘Who shall I inscribe this to?’ Later in the dressing room he said to us, ‘I was glad to sign this picture. This will be in a lot of homes, believe me. Did you get a load of this?’
“We inspected the picture then. And there was Benny with his horn in his mouth, perched on a stool with his legs spread wide. His fly was open.
“‘Buttons!’ Gene said. ‘Buttons!’ That suit’s probably from about 1940.”
NB: The group on the Merv Griffin Show was completed by Jimmy Rowles, piano, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar and Jack Six, bass. I agree with Michael that Jimmy Rowles is particularly impressive. But, of course, they’re all fantastic.
I keep promising myself (and readers) that I’ll never write another word about that posturing charlatan Galloway. But for a blogger, he’s the gift that just keeps on giving:
George Galloway: “But there have been achievements in North Korea. They do have a satellite circling the earth. They have built a nuclear power industry even though they suspended it on false promises from President Clinton and other U.S. statesmen. They do have a cohesive, pristine actually, innocent culture. A culture that has not been penetrated by globalization and by Western mores and is very interesting to see. But I wouldn’t like to live there. And I’m not advocating their system. Not least because they certainly don’t believe in God in North Korea…”
H/t: Pete Cookson